Obituaries

Have you ever wondered how your obit might read? Most obituaries are written by a family member, and are filled with words of love and appreciation. As they should be. No surprises, and if it happened to be your obituary, you would be pleased. In January of this year, I wrote about my vision of “Heaven.” The way it came out, as one of my “blogue” readers shared, “I’m almost looking forward to Heaven” Why not. You might get to meet Winston Churchill, Arnold Palmer and “Millie,” and live in a really nice condo. On a golf course!

Then I got to thinking; when it comes to obituaries, to be on the safe side, write your own. Say all the nice things that others might (or should) say about you, and get a few things off your chest. Things that might have annoyed you (“How fast are you going, do you know the speed limit?” and “You said you’d be home two hours ago – where were you?”) and you decided at the time not to offer any real defence. So, I beginning to think that now is the time to put a few things down on paper, just to be prepared.

But, in the meantime, I will introduce you to Joe Heller. Or rather, the obituary for Joe Heller. Joe is not to be confused with the author, Joseph Heller, who wrote “Catch – 22.” Our Joe Heller passed away only recently, on September 8, in Centerbrook, CT. And by most accounts, he was an ordinary man. Or was he? Not according to his obituary.

That is Joe above. His obituary appeared in the Hartford Courant newspaper, written by his daughter, and it went something like this (leaving out some of the text):

“Joe Heller made his last undignified and largely irreverent gesture on September 8, 2019, signing off on a life, in his words, “generally well-lived and with few regrets.” When the doctors confronted his daughters with the news last week that “your father is a very sick man,” in unison they replied, “you have no idea.”

God thankfully broke the mold after Joe was born to the late Joseph Heller, Sr. and Ruth Marion (Clock) on January 24, 1937 in New Haven, CT. Being born during the depression shaped Joe’s formative years and resulted in a lifetime of frugality, hoarding and cheap mischief, often at the expense of others. Being the eldest was a dubious task but he was up for the challenge and led and tortured his siblings through a childhood of obnoxious pranks, with his brother, Bob, generally serving as his wingman. Pat, Dick and Kathy were often on the receiving end of such lessons as “Ding Dong, Dogshit” and thwarting lunch thieves with laxative-laced chocolate cake and excrement meatloaf sandwiches. His mother was not immune to his pranks as he named his first dog, “Fart,” so she would have to scream his name to come home if he wandered off.

Joe started his long and illustrious career as a Library Assistant at Yale Law School Library alongside his father before hatching a plan with his lifelong buddies … to join the Navy and see the world together. Their plot was thwarted and the three were split up when Joe pulled the “long straw” and was assigned to a coveted base in Bermuda where he joined the “Seabees,” Construction Battalion, and was appointed to the position of Construction Electrician’s Mate 3rd class. His service to the country and community didn’t end after his honorable discharge. Joe was a Town Constable, Volunteer Fireman and Ambulance Association member, Cross walk guard, Public Works Snow Plower and a proud member of the Antique Veterans organization.

(Mr. Heller’s body was carried to the cemetery in a 1941 Mack fire truck he had helped to restore).

Joe was a self-taught chemist and worked at Cheeseborough-Ponds where he developed one of their first cosmetics’ lines. There he met the love of his life, Irene, who was hoodwinked into thinking he was a charming individual with decorum. Boy, was she ever wrong. Joe embarrassed her daily with his mouth and choice of clothing. To this day we do not understand how he convinced our mother, an exceedingly proper woman and a pillar in her church, to sew and create the colorful costumes and props which he used for his antics.

Growing up in Joe’s household was never dull. If the old adage of “You only pull the hair of those you love” holds true, his three daughters were well loved.
Joe was a frequent customer of the girls’ beauty shops, allowing them to “do” his hair and apply make-up liberally. He lovingly assembled doll furniture and built them a play kitchen and forts in the back yard. During their formative years, Joe made sure that their moral fibers were enriched by both Archie Bunker and Benny Hill. When they began dating, Joe would greet their dates by first running their license plates and checking for bald tires. If their vehicle passed inspection, they were invited into the house where shotguns, harpoons and sheep “nutters” were left clearly on display.

After retiring from running Bombaci Fuel, he was perhaps, most well-known for his role as the Essex Town “Dawg Kecher.” He refused to put any of his “prisoners” down and would look for the perfect homes for them. One of them was a repeat offender who he named “Asshole” because no owner would ever keep him for very long because he was, in fact, an asshole. My Dad would take his buddy on daily rides in his van and they’d roam around town with the breeze blowing through both of their fur. He never met a dog he didn’t like, the same could not be said for the wanna-be blue bloods, snoots and summer barnacles that roamed about town. His words, not ours. Well maybe not exactly his words as those would been much more colorful.

Joe was a frequent shopper at the Essex Dump and he left his family with a house full of crap, 300 pounds of birdseed and dead houseplants that they have no idea what to do with. If there was ever a treasure that he snatched out from under you among the mounds of junk, please wait the appropriate amount of time to contact the family to claim your loot. We’re available tomorrow. Joe was also a consummate napper. There wasn’t a road, restaurant or friend’s house in Essex that he didn’t fall asleep on or in. There wasn’t an occasion too formal or an event too dour that Joe didn’t interrupt with his apnea and voluminous snoring.

Besides his beloved wife, Irene, and brother, Bobby, Joe was pre-deceased by his pet fish, Jack, who we found in the freezer last week.

Left to squabble over his vast fortune, real estate holdings and “treasures” are his three daughters Michelle Heller (Andrew Bennett) of Newton, MA, Lisette Heller (Lenny Estelle) of Ivoryton, CT and Monique Heller (John Parnoff) of Old Lyme, CT. He relished his role as Papa and Grampa Joe to Zachary, Maxwell and Emily Bennett, Megan, Mackenzie and Ryan Korcak, and Giovanna and Mattea Parnoff and hopes that he taught at least one of them to cuss properly.

No flowers, please. The family is seeking donations to offset the expense of publishing an exceedingly long obituary which would have really pissed Joe off. Seriously, what would have made him the happiest is for you to go have a cup of coffee with a friend and bullshit about his antics or play a harmless prank on some unsuspecting sap.

A celebration of his life, with Joe laid out in all his glory, will be held on Thursday, September 12, at the Essex Fire Department, 11 Saybrook Road, from 4-7. A light dinner will be served as Joe felt no get-together was complete without food. None of his leftovers or kitchen concoctions will be pawned off on any unsuspecting guests. Feel free to be as late as you’d like as Joe was never on time for anything because of the aforementioned napping habits. Joe despised formality and stuffiness and would really be ticked off if you showed up in a suit. Dress comfortably. The family encourages you to don the most inappropriate T-Shirt that you are comfortable being seen in public with as Joe often did. Everybody has a Joe story and we’d love to hear them all. Joe faced his death and his mortality, as he did with his life, face on, often telling us that when he dropped dead to dig a hole in the back yard and just roll him in. Much to his disappointment, he will be properly interred with full military honors (and maybe Jack) next to his wife on Friday, September 13, at 10:00 am in Centerbrook Cemetery. Sorry, Mom, Lisette and I did the best we could to take care of him and keep him out of your hair as long as we could. Back in your court now.”

According to the New York Times, at the memorial service, a Navy honour guard — long known as the Antique Veterans Organization because of its aging membership — delivered a rifle salute, played taps and performed a ceremonial flag-folding ceremony.

The honour guard’s commander, Joseph Barry, admitted that Mr. Heller would have “dropped a few F-bombs” in declaring the whole thing superfluous.

After the burial, Joe’s daughter Monique, and the author of his obituary, is shown holding the American flag presented in her father’s honour, and said that, “people like my dad are the backbone of this country and I think the world wants to hear their stories.’’

So true. And I post this blog piece with no small amount of sorrow as we have just lost our dear friend – Brian Tinkler – who with his sense of humour and his love of humour, would have enjoyed reading about Joe Heller.

Kalpudding (Swedish Meatloaf)

I am a big fan of meatloaf, especially as the weather turns cool, and with the fireplace turned on, it is time for comfort food. There is nothing more comforting than meatloaf, and over the years, I have tried numerous approaches. The following is one I adapted from a NY Times recipe, and it seemed to go over well with guests.

Start with a head of green cabbage – a three pounder will do – core and shred, as you would for cole slaw. Start with 2 tablespoons of butter in a large skillet over medium heat, and as it foams, add 3 tablespoons of molasses. Then add your cabbage and cook gradually. Stir often. It may take 30 minutes before the cabbage is caramelized.

Remove the cabbage from the skillet, and add 3 or 4 rashers of bacon, chopped. Once the bacon has softened, add 2 diced small onions, and sauté the mixture until the onions have almost caramelized. Re-introduce the cabbage to the skillet, mixing in cracked black pepper and salt to taste, and keep the mixture warm.

In a sauté pan, brown two or three bratwurst sausages (casings removed and sausages chopped). Mix in a quarter cup of shredded cheddar cheese (I use bratwurst that already incorporates cheddar; otherwise mix in the quarter cup of cheddar). Let cool.

In a large bowl, mix together a pound of lean ground beef and a pound of ground pork, together with a quarter cup of bread crumbs, and a half cup of heavy cream. Add two-thirds of the warm cabbage mixture and the sausage/cheese mixture. Add more heavy cream if needed. There will be enough of the mixture to fill two loaf pans (which will have been sprayed with cooking spray). Take the remaining one-third cabbage mixture and cover the top of each meatloaf. Let them sit while the oven heats to 350 degrees F. Bake the meatloaf for an hour. The cabbage topping will get crispy. Once done, let the loafs sit for 10 minutes before serving.

The NY Times recipe called for a lingonberry sauce (very Swedish), but alas, lingonberries were nowhere to be had. I opted instead for a rich beef gravy and garlic mashed potatoes. My Kalpudding looked much like this:

Utah

For many western snowbirds, U.S. Interstate 15 is the most direct route south, especially for those heading to Arizona. And I-15 cuts right through Utah (and the state capitol, Salt Lake City) making its way to Nevada and on. But, for those who want to spend some time in Utah, it will be time well spent; and that is the reason for this “blogue” entry.

Beautiful – is it not? The photo is of the Delicate Arch, prominent in Arches National Park in Moab, Utah, (some refer to the park as the “Holey Land”). Moab is about a four hour drive from Salt Lake City.

We arrived in Utah with some trepidation some twenty years ago, and left with much reluctance eight years later. Our reluctance is perhaps easy to understand. There is the beauty of the state, highlighted by a disproportionate number of state and national parks (there are 6 national parks in Utah; more than any other state; and some of which I will come back to); a climate that features lots of sunshine, with mild winters and hot summers; fascinating cultural characteristics; and people who are quick to offer their friendship.

Here are some facts about Utah:

  • More than 60% of Utah’s 3 million plus residents are of the Mormon faith – members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church).
    The State of Utah has profound religious underpinnings, having been settled in the late 1840s by Mormon pioneers. The church patriarch was Joseph Smith, but it was Brigham Young who led the Mormons to Utah. Brigham Young established Salt Lake City and its environs, and entrenched the LDS Church in business and in the government of the State.
  • The Great Salt Lake, slightly northwest of the capitol, is four times saltier than the world’s oceans. Were you to completely boil a quart of water from the Lake, a cup of salt would result.
  • Utah residents most often refer to themselves as “Utahns,” not “Utahans” as dictionaries might suggest.
  • After Nevada, Utah is the sunniest state in the U.S., with more than 300 days of sunshine annually.
  • Utah has more plastic surgeons per capita than any other state, and Salt Lake City has more than any other U.S. city. The results were quite visible, according to my sons during their visits.
  • Utah is known as the “Beehive State,” a moniker that is attributed to the early Mormon settlers – productive workers who regarded themselves as the “hives of industry.”
  • Utah has the highest consumption of Jello in the U.S., and as such, Jello is the State’s official snack.
  • Utah has some quirky liquor laws. Alcohol is purchased in State stores, although 3.2% beer is available in supermarkets (except on Sundays). Downing a 6 pack of 3.2 beer might give you a slight buzz. (Thankfully, 3.2 beer may soon disappear). In 1998, upon arriving in Salt City City, I was unable to order an alcoholic beverage without first ordering a meal (if you were a member of a private club, the need to order food was waived). Many of the liquor laws were loosened prior to the 2002 Winter Olympic Games held in Salt Lake City. That being said, I found that Utah bars and restaurants are still home to the world’s smallest martinis – just enough gin to cover an olive. Nothing like these. Two are just right, by the way …

  • The State bird of Utah is the California Gull. In the late spring of 1848 as farmers’ crops were maturing in the Salt Lake Valley, swarms of insects (referred to as “Mormon crickets”), began to devour anything in their paths, only to be thwarted by swarms of gulls. The crops were saved; the gull is revered.

  • Above is the seagull statue in Salt Lake’s Temple Square.
  • Polygamy was banned by the LDS Church in 1890, as a condition for gaining statehood. But it is estimated that 40,000 polygamous marriages remain in the state, mainly among fundamentalists who have broken away from the LDS Church. I can say from personal experience that a visit to a local Costco will prove that polygamy is still quite visible. One guy, seven wives, three carts.
  • In May 2000, the town of Virgin, Utah, passed a law was that required every homeowner to keep and maintain a firearm. Exceptions to this law included, “the mentally ill, convicted felons, conscientious objectors and people who cannot afford to own a gun.”

  • Love this photo. Robert Redford and Paul Newman as the Sundance Kid and Butch Cassidy. Their real names were Harry Longabagh a.k.a. Sundance, and Robert LeRoy Parker as Butch. Harry and Robert headed a gang known as the “Wild Bunch,” specializing in robbing trains and banks. Apparently the pair met their fate in Bolivia, as the movie, “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” would suggest. Great movie, and wouldn’t be the same were the title “Robert and Harry.” The movie, of course, spawned the Sundance Movie Festival held each year in Sundance, UT and Park City, UT. Upon reflection, how cool are these guys?
  • In Utah, the town Levan lies pretty much at the centre of the state. “Levan” is “navel” spelled backwards. “Ylleb Nottub” obviously would not work.

But back for a moment or two to visit some of the treasures of Utah:

That is Zion National Park in the foregoing. Spectacular. A short distance from St. George, UT, which in itself is a winter getaway from Salt Lake City. In January, Salt Lake City Utahns take the four hour trip to St. George to enjoy the 60 to 70 degree F weather, as we often did. On one occasion we stayed at the “Seven Wives Inn,” a bed and breakfast across the street from Brigham Young’s winter home.

Brigham Young led a caravan of pioneers west and, upon seeing the Salt Lake Valley, according to legend, proclaimed, “this is the place.” The date was July 24, 1847, and the 24th is a date that is celebrated in Utah each year as “Pioneer Day.” Following the death of Joseph Smith, Brigham Young had taken on the presidency of the LDS Church. Smith had published The book of Mormon in 1830, but was killed in 1844. Young headed the LDS Church until his death in 1877. There is much to the life of Brigham Young worth researching, and I will leave that to your own curiosity. But among other accomplishments, Brigham Young was a husband to 55 women. Which has led me to wonder; were there 54 local guys who went through life wifeless? Were they left wandering aimlessly through the Utah desert in search of marital bliss?

OK. While you ponder that … here is Bryce Canyon National Park. Famous for its formation of “hoodoos.” Also spectacular and just 5 hours from Salt Lake City.

Utah has a National Basketball Association franchise dubbed the Utah Jazz. Jazz itself has no real underpinnings in Utah. The Jazz were relocated from New Orleans (which is all about jazz) in 1979. The Jazz have had some good years, but never good enough to win an NBA championship. But Utah is a basketball crazy state, and the Jazz are sold out – always.

A higher percentage of Utahns are married than any other state in the country; but Utah has a higher divorce rate than average in the country as well. It has the youngest population in the U.S. and the highest birth rate.

Utah has one the highest rates of prescription drug abuse in the U.S., and I can tell you from personal (albeit, professional) experience, that Utah had one the highest rates of consumption of anti-depressant drugs (this from data several years back).

Above is the Mormon Tabernacle in Temple Square in downtown Salt Lake. A must see while in Salt Lake City. The Tabernacle is famous for its choir, and for hosting the semi-annual general meetings of the LDS Church.

Below: Canyonlands National Park. A mere four an half hours from Salt Lake City. Close to Moab. The landscape was carved by the flow of Colorado and Green Rivers. Certainly worth getting off I-5 for a few hours.

Famous Utahns

That’s Butch on the left, with Sundance.

Then there are Steve Young, an NFL Hall of Fame quarterback, who is a great-great-great grandson of Brigham Young; Loretta Young, movie star of the 30’ and 40s and an Oscar winner (and best seen in “The Bishop’s Wife,” with Cary Grant); Billy Casper and Johnny Miller, former professional golfers; Robert Redford (actually born in California, but lists Sundance, UT as his home); Roseanne Barr (enough said); and Donnie and Marie Osmond, toothsome brother and sister act, and still wowing them in Vegas (and enough said).

Pickleball

During a recent July golf get together, three of my university classmates, Winnipeggers all (but now relocated to Lotus Land), suggested I write something about pickleball. And there was the further suggestion from one of the three (he shall go nameless) that I incorporate lots of pictures, with fewer things that have to be read. So here it is … well, maybe not yet, as I must digress.

That is Jimmy Buffett below. Jimmy is famous for his song “Margaritaville” – which he combined with a lot of business savvy that has propelled his net worth into the $600 million ozone level.

Jimmy founded Margaritaville Holdings, which among other things owns restaurants, hotels, and retirement communities. For example, Margaritaville Holdings has partnered with a real estate development company to create Latitude Margaritaville, a retirement community in Daytona Beach, FL., that is proposed to have 6000 homes on completion. Homes range in price from $200,000 to $400,000.

You could pick up this little gem below for just over $300,000. It is the aptly named “Parrot Model,” keeping in mind Jimmy’s fondness for parrots and the Parrotheads who attend his concerts. The house includes 2 beds and 2 baths and 1900 air-conditioned square feet. And with a covered lanai to keep the bugs out.

Then there is the Latitude lifestyle. Here, for example, might be some of your new best friends. The one lady must have just told a “Dad’ joke. “What’s orange and sounds like a parrot? A carrot!” Just too funny. And I am 100 percent certain they are socking back margaritas.

OK. It turns out that Jimmy had the temerity to have his Margarita Holdings sponsor the U. S. national pickleball championships to be held this November in Indian Wells, CA. While pickleball is embraced by all ages, it is particularly appealing to an older demographic – those who might want to live in Latitude communities (more are planned), and those who believe that a salt-rimmed, quart-sized glass of margarita is nirvana. From November 2 through 11 the United States Pickleball Association (USPBA) will present the Margaritaville United States National Pickleball Championships at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden. (The Garden each March hosts the BNP Paribas Open, which many tennis aficionados consider the 5th Grand Slam tennis event). There will be 49 pickleball courts set up for the November event, which will attract more than 2500 pickleball enthusiasts. The Tennis Garden in the following. The Garden is owned by Larry Ellison. More on Larry later.

This photo was taken at the 2018 Championships, and I am starting to see some of the benefits of pickleball. On the one hand, if you are playing mixed doubles, you may get a really nice hug. And secondly, as a spectator, there are plenty of good seats available.

Pickleball seems to have had its origins in 1965. The story goes this way: After a Saturday game of golf, a U.S. congressman from Washington state, Bill Pritchard, returned home with his playing partner, Bill Bell, to find their families at a loss for something to do. The gentlemen sought out some badminton equipment, but finding none, they used some table tennis paddles and a perforated plastic ball and set up the badminton net at 60 inches; soon lowered to 36 inches. The following weekend, a neighbour, Barney McCallum, joined his two friends to formulate the rules of the game. Two years later, another neighbour created the first permanent pickleball court.

And in 1976 the first pickleball tournament was held in Tukwila, WA.
Today, according to the USPBA, which was formed in 1984, there are more than 4,000 pickleball locations in the U.S., along with more than 3 million players. And the game is spreading internationally.

An interesting name, pickleball, and like the racket sport, squash, pickle-ball has nothing to do with food. There are a couple of versions as to the origin of the name, but the one I like is confirmed by Barney McCallum, who recalled that the Prichard’s dog, Pickles, would, during the course of a game, run off with the ball.

One of the young ladies at my gym remarked that she plays pickleball when wintering in Mexico. Because of the noise the game creates the locals refer to pickleball players as “Woodypeckers.” Gotta like that.

Pickleball is an ideal sport for any age, but has caught on with those of us who are considered mature, at least in age. It is affordable; all one needs is a paddle and a supply of balls. That’s maybe a hundred bucks. Running shoes are a good idea. Knee braces might help, but are not mandatory. And there are courts everywhere – many of which are public. I don’t know of any Pickleball Country Clubs.

Of course, in the States, as the game grows, so do the stakes. And now there are professional pickleball players. That’s Kyle Yates below, a pro, and yes, I can do without the fist pump. It’s only pickleball!

We have a pretty active pickleball community here in the Qualicum Beach area. I have to admit to trying my hand at pickleball a couple of years ago. How difficult could it be? I was a decent racquetball, squash and tennis player (in descending order); and pickleball doubles seemed so easy by contrast. But after my playing partner and I were drubbed by a couple of octogenarian ladies, I went back to the golf course. Fewer witnesses.

Pickleball to me is a game for all ages that should be the domain of the ageless. The photo following captures what I mean. This could easily have been taken here in Qualicum. The guy on the right looks like he just climbed off his combine.

I almost forgot about Larry Ellison. Larry bought the Indian Wells Tennis Garden in 2009 for about $100 million. With a stratospheric fortune of some $60 billion, $100 million would seem to him like a rounding error. Larry was born in 1944 and in a rags-to-riches story he went from his birthplace in the Bronx to co-found Oracle, the database management behemoth. That’s Larry below. Seems happy enough …

Basketball

I had just finished watching Game 6 of the NBA finals – the game in Oakland where the Raptors prevailed over the Golden State Warriors, thus winning their first NBA championship – when I decided to dig a little deeper into basketball and came across a 1939 radio interview featuring Dr. James Naismith. Dr. Naismith told the story of a cold winter in 1891 in Springfield, MA where he was teaching at the Springfield YMCA. He was instructed by the head of the physical education department to come up with an indoor game that would distract the badly behaved young men at the “Y.” He placed a “basket” (peach basket) at either end of an indoor court, and play began with a soccer ball. The baskets were placed out of reach (10 feet) and the ball was passed rather than dribbled. There were 9 players on each team. After each “goal,” a jump ball was taken at the middle of the court, making for a low-scoring game. Naismith named the game “basket ball” and came up with 13 rules; such as, “The ball may be batted in any direction with one or both hands, but never with the fist.” (still a rule); and, “No shouldering, holding, pushing, tripping or striking in any way the person of an opponent shall be allowed …” (based on NBA games, this rule is open to interpretation). It is noteworthy that in 2010 Naismith’s rules were sold at auction for $4.3 million to the billionaire David Booth and wife Suzanne, and subsequently given over to Mr. Booth’s alma mater, the University of Kansas where the rules are on display. That’s Mr. Booth below with the “Rules of Basket Ball.”

Had Dr. Naismith not invented basketball, he is still worthy of our attention. James Naismith was born in Almonte, Ontario in 1861. (Yes, a Canadian invented basketball). When he was not yet 10 years of age, his parents died of typhoid fever and he and his siblings went to live with an uncle. An indifferent student, Naismith left high school to do rough work, eventually getting his high school equivalency before entering McGill University in Montreal at the age of 21. While at McGill he played rugby, lacrosse, soccer and gymnastics, and graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree. He went on to study theology while teaching physical education at McGill. In 1891, he left Montreal to train as a YMCA Physical Education Director at the International YMCA Training School in Springfield, MA (the school later to become Springfield College). He could have stopped there, with his invention of basket ball.

In 1895 he (newly married) moved to Denver, CO to work as a physical education director while pursuing a medical degree at the University of Colorado. Then, in 1898, he was off to the University of Kansas as an associate professor and to create the university’s men’s basketball program. Ironically, through the storied history of the UK basketball Jayhawks, only one coach has had a losing record – Dr. James Naismith.

But that aside, there is more to the Naismith story. The good doctor volunteered as a chaplain for the Kansas Army National Guard and in 1916 was part of a patrol along the border with Mexico, following a raid by Pancho Villa (That border!! What can one do? A wall maybe?). In 1917 he spent time in Paris during the Great War. Dr. Naismith returned to the University of Kansas, where he served as campus physician and director of athletics until the age of 76.

During his interview Dr. Naismith sounded very proud of the fact that basketball made its debut at the 1936 Berlin Olympic Games. And well he should. Dr. James Naismith passed away in 1939. I am thinking; maybe when I pass I might like to be bronzed. Sit me on a bench at the golf course. Scare the sh*t out of unsuspecting green fee players.

So far has basketball come?

What started with some imagination in humble surroundings has grown into the second most popular sport in the world (after what we know as soccer, and the rest of the world knows as football). Basketball has become the most popular sport in Toronto, with hockey well down the list, as the Leafs are more than 50 years removed from a Stanley Cup, and with no relief in sight.

As much as I have been intrigued by the NBA final, I am more of a fan of NCAA basketball, especially when its “March Madness” rolls around each year. The NBA was relatively slow to include non-white players, with the first African-Americans appearing in 1950. By comparison, integration of major league baseball began in 1947, when Jackie Robinson joined the Brooklyn Dodgers.

In the period leading up to 1947, few African-Americans played basketball at the major college level, with at least one notable exception – Jackie Robinson. Jackie played for UCLA from 1939 to 1941. Besides playing basketball well, he was a champion long jumper (it was called broad jumping when I went to high school – and it was probably wise to change the name), an All-American halfback in football, as well as a baseball shortstop. Here is Jackie as a collegiate basketball star.

And now, almost 70 years after the NBA integrated, African-Americans comprise about three-quarters of the player base.

Watching March Madness this year, and the NBA finals, I am reminded at the level of athleticism that is on display. Players who are equally adept with either hand, whether dribbling, passing or shooting. None more adept than Kawhi Leonard, the Raptor’s leader and the NBA playoffs most valuable player. And now, sadly for Toronto, and all of Canada of that matter, Kawhi has signed a contract with the LA Clippers.

Snakes

That’s River Phoenix as Young Indy in a scene from the movie, “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.” It was a scene that helped to explain Indiana Jones’ fear of snakes clearly evident in the first Jones’ movie, “Raiders of the Lost Ark.” River, in this photo, was covered in garter snakes – frightening enough, but not life-threatening. In “Raiders,” Harrison Ford as the adult Indy, found himself in a large den of venomous snakes. By the way, for those of you who enjoy doing crossword puzzles, a fear of snakes is known as “ophidiophobia.”

My godmother Doris lived for many years in Inwood, Manitoba, a hamlet about an hour from Winnipeg, the provincial capitol. Doris is no longer with us, but she was special to me, my sister and our parents. When I think of Doris I am reminded of Meryl Streep playing Julia Child and how her voice would rise an octave or two. And it would be difficult for Doris to contain her excitement knowing that the New York Times, on June 16 of this year, had just done a piece on the snakes of Narcisse, Manitoba, just a few minutes from where she had lived. The Times headlined the article, “Tokyo has its cherry blossoms, the Netherlands has its tulip fields, and Paris offers itself. But the Canadian province of Manitoba has a remarkably distinctive springtime attraction too: tens of thousands of amorous snakes writhing around in pits.” In good company obviously, and sounds kind of sexy.

Late May is the mating time for red-sided garter snakes, and Narcisse appears to be the ideal place. The Narcisse snake dens accommodate some 70,000 snakes, and attract several thousand curiosity seekers each year. Among them is a biology professor from Oregon State University, who has come to Narcisse in each of the past 37 years. I’m not sure why one year wouldn’t suffice, but the professor explains that the snakes form a ball, with males surrounding a larger female in order to copulate. Apparently males outnumber females by a hundred to one. Not the kinds of odds I would warm to.

Apart from the 10 days in spring when the snakes are cavorting, there is not a lot going on in Inwood or Narcisse (Narcisse has a gas station and little else). But those ever-enterprising Manitobans – not to be outdone by the French with their Eiffel Tower or the Americans with their Statue of Liberty – have come up with a statue of Sam and Sara to stimulate tourism. As if 70,000 snakes weren’t enough.

And not to forget “Raiders of the Lost Ark.” Here is Harrison Ford as Indiana Jones confronting his worst fear. Time to watch the movie again …

 

Cauliflower Soup

I like soup. And I like soup at pretty much any time of year. I don’t have to wait until the fall or winter months. The one thing I like about soup is that it incorporates the veggies I should otherwise be eating. I am not about to munch a carrot or a celery stick, but chopped up and put into a soup … well, they almost become desirable. So here is a great recipe that has as its base cauliflower – quite bland in appearance (possibly the Mike Pence of vegetables) – that turns into super soup.

Start with a head of cauliflower that you have reduced to florets. Toss the florets in a large bowl with a mix of olive oil and cumin (2 tablespoons), crushed black pepper (a tablespoon), and a teaspoon of salt. Place the florets in a sheet pan and roast in a 350 F degree oven for 35 minutes or until the florets show some char. If there is one thing that is as good as a gin martini, it is garlic. There are two ways to deal with garlic in this recipe. It is July here, and friends have provided garlic scapes. These are the stalks that grow out of garlic bulbs.

I chop up the scapes, add oil, and throw them in with the cauliflower while roasting. Alternatively, I take a whole bulb of garlic, cut the top, place in a small ramekin and pour some olive oil over the bulb. Place in the oven with the cauliflower and the end of 35 minutes the cauliflower and the garlic will be nicely done. That’s the hard part.

Once the cauliflower is roasted, place in a slow cooker with two quarts of water and three heaping tablespoons of “Better than Bouillon” veggie bouillon (or chicken bouillon, if you don’t have the veggie version). Put the heat on low, add the garlic (having squeezed all the cloves out of the bulbs; or as the roasted scapes), and add two chopped carrots, a stalk of celery (chopped), a medium onion (chopped), a tablespoon of hot pepper flakes, a quarter cup of chopped fresh parsley, a quarter cup of fresh tarragon, a quarter cup of fresh oregano, and lots of crushed pepper. If you don’t have fresh herbs, go for two tablespoons each of the bottled stuff.

When the veggies have all softened, blend the mix with a wand until smooth. Taste and add salt as necessary. Add a cup of cheddar cheese (shredded) and a half cup of asiago (shredded) or fontina (shredded), just to boost the flavour. Get your wand out and blend. Add water or bouillon to get the consistency you want.

D-Day

The young lady in the photo is Sonya D’Artois, who, at the age of 20, parachuted into France, behind enemy lines, just prior to the D-Day invasion.

I began writing this on June 6, 2019; the 75th anniversary of D-Day. I had spent a good portion of the day watching and listening to politicians, and much more importantly, to the veterans who landed on the beaches of Normandy, France on June 6, 1944. And better to focus on the true heroes, rather than politicians who say all the nice things about veterans, and who for the most part, have been at arm’s length or longer from any military service (as in bone spurs, opposition to conscription, etc).

Sonya D’Artois (nee Butt) was born in Kent. England in 1924, and as a child of divorced parents, spent much of her time with her mother in the south of France, able to speak flawless French as a result. At the age of seventeen and a half (the minimum age required) Sonya joined the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force (the WAAF).

In 1943 Sonya was recruited by the British Special Operations Executive (SOE) and on May 28. 1944, was one of 50 female secret agents parachuted into France, as a courier between resistance groups and as a weapons instructor. At one point she was captured by the Germans, and after four hours was released after checking her papers (although they were false and in the name of Suzanne Bonvie). Further along, working as a courier, she was knocked from her bicycle by Germans soldiers and raped, and yet was able to continue on her mission.

By all accounts, Sonya was fortunate, if that can be said, as of the original 50 female SOE secret agents, only 13 returned to England after the War.

For her service and courage she was made a Member of the Order of the British Empire.

Lionel Guy D’Artois (above) was born in 1917 in Richmond, Quebec. In 1939 he dropped his studies at the Université de Montréal to enlist. He too joined the SOE and in April of 1944 parachuted into France to conjoin with the Free French Forces. In recognition of his service, “Guy” was awarded the Croix de Guerre from France, and the Distinguished Service Medal from Britain. I am certain his greatest award was his marriage to Sonya. In late 1944 they settled in Quebec. Guy remained in the military for the next three decades, while the couple raised 6 children. Guy passed on in 1999, while Sonya died in 2014, at the age of 90.

I discovered in my research that Sonya D’Artois and Nancy Wake had forged a relationship that began during the War years and endured until Ms Wake’s death in 2011. You may recall an earlier blog (November 2018) in which I described the heroic exploits of Ms. Wake during World War II.

Whenever I hear comments about the lack of recognition of equality for women, whether in the workplace or in different cultures, it is stories of women like Ms. D’Artois and Ms. Wake that serve as a reminder that women have no equal. And here they are … Sonya on the right.

Oregon Redux

It has been just 8 months since we last visited Oregon, and we are back for more. Living on Vancouver Island is idyllic, but once in a while you might want to leave, although departing the Island presents its challenges. When we do decide to travel south, we usually take a ferry to the B.C. Mainland (i.e. Vancouver) and cross into the U.S. at Blaine, WA. On this occasion we decided on the two hour drive down to Victoria, having made a reservation on the Black Ball ferry, MV Coho, that sails between Victoria and Port Angeles, WA. The Coho is a smallish ferry, with room for 110 vehicles, and makes the crossing of 22 miles in 90 minutes. The ferry is 60 years old and it has a friendly, small village feel to it. However, the Coho is also referred to as “The Vomit Comet” as it does not fare well in rough seas.

Motor Vessel Coho above.

Once in Port Angeles we took Highway 101 East/South, following the Hood Canal and eventually hooked up with Interstate 5 at Olympia, WA. Heading south we turned off at Longview and crossed the Columbia River into Oregon using the Lewis and Clark Bridge. Highway 30 then took us to Astoria where we re-joined Highway 101 to Gearhart OR.

An alternative to 101 East/South at Port Angeles is to head onto 101 West/South that follows the Washington coast – a very pretty drive.

But for me that means facing the spectre of crossing the Columbia on the Astoria-Megler Bridge. The bridge is 4 miles long, and at its peak and at high tide, it sits 200 feet above the river. A few years ago we were driving towards Astoria on the bridge when travel was halted for construction. We ended up sitting on the bridge at its peak. I have several frailties, my golf game among them, and then there is my fear of heights. I have not crossed the bridge since. I’d rather swim the four miles. And the Lewis and Clark bridge is just fine, thank you.

Taking a slightly longer way after leaving Port Angeles we arrived in Gearhart, which I have described for you in an October, 2018 “blogue” posting.

Gearhart, Seaside (3 miles to the south of Gearhart) and Cannon Beach (another 7 or 8 miles south) all have stunning beaches and a real emphasis on seafood, especially shellfish. The beaches at Gearhart/Seaside are spectacular, and when the tide is out, they are ripe for clam digging.

I must admit that clams, and certainly digging for clams, have never been on my bucket list. But I am one who tends to get caught up in what the locals do, and apparently the locals dig for clams, especially razor clams. Razor clams appear on any number of restaurant menus along the northern coast of Oregon into the southern coast of Washington. After some research I discovered that, with a license, a clam digger can “catch” 15 clams a day. I use the term “catch” loosely, as the clams don’t move that quickly.

A non-resident of Oregon can get a three day license for 19 bucks. So I got my license, and then bought a “clam gun” for 19 dollars, plus a net (in which to store my catch and at a cost of 6 bucks) and I was off to the beach (above) with the knowledge that razor clams are most susceptible to being “caught” during very low or negative tides (information provided by the Oregon Department of Fisheries and Wildlife). In the following photo are razor clams – quite substantial and as it turns out, quite delicious. I caught six my first day and a total of 17, which, over three days, and considering my investment, worked out to less than three bucks a clam. A bargain, and even better when one factors in the value of an hour or two well spent in glorious surroundings.

Oh … the “clam gun.” That requires some explanation. Upon my purchase my first instinct was to join the NRA. By that I mean the “National Razorclamming Association.” But I decided to go independent.

The locals are purists and will dig for clams with shovels. Newbies like me opt for the simpler method, using the “gun,” which is a technological marvel that binds together three pieces of PVC. So when I say, “caught,” the clams are really sucked out of the sand. The “gun” is pictured below. All a clammer needs to do is find a little hole that a razor clam leaves when its neck is withdrawn, then drill down about two feet with the gun and pull up the bounty. Works like a charm. The clams are then headed to the kitchen to be cleaned, then fried or made into chowder.

Often you meet the nicest people on the golf course. I was playing as a single on the Gearhart Golf Links (again described earlier in my October “blogue”), when I was urged to play through by two gentlemen on a golf cart. They were not serious golfers and seemed to be enjoying cocktail hour a little early (it was about two o’clock). As I passed them again two holes along, they asked if I drank beer. I said, “only after the game.” They responded saying that the beer would be warm by then, and proceeded to hand me a “Buoy Beer.” They introduced themselves as Wally and Dan. It turns out that Dan is the co-founder of a local brewery (“Buoy Beer”) and Wally is the operations guy at the brewery.

A few days later we decided to visit the Buoy Beer brewery/brew pub. It overlooks the Columbia River at Astoria. Great food and ambiance.
As an aside, it should be noted that “buoy” is pronounced two ways. Americans tend towards “boo-ee,” while Brits and perhaps Canucks might opt for “boy.” I missed Dan and Wally at the brew pub, hoping to say hello and ask them if they get comments about their catch phrase, “Reach for a Buoy!” Could be a sensitive thing, I guess, depending on how you pronounce “buoy.”

 

Most cinnamon buns are probably a little bigger than the size of a coffee cup. Not so at Camp 18. Camp 18 is a restaurant in Elsie, Oregon, about 20 minutes from Seaside. Is it worth the trip? Maybe. The building is a sight to see, especially from the inside. The food? On a scale of ten, it was OK. I am a breakfast guy and I thought Camp 18 came up short. We did take the cinnamon bun home and had it for breakfast the following morning. It was enough for 4 people. And it was good.

That’s Camp 18 in the photo following. Very woody.

 

Pig ’N Pancake is a local chain. Five locations along the northern coast of Oregon. Not the first place I would try for breakfast (the name, maybe? Or the logo?). More out of curiosity (and to see where the locals eat) we hit the PNP in Seaside. It was a good move. First of all, they have booths. I love a booth. And on a scale of 10, the PNP breakfast was a 10. Perfect Denver omelette with crispy hash browns. No need for lunch.

Herb Tarlek

A favourite TV show was “WKRP in Cincinnati;” a comedy that ran from 1978 to 1982 about a radio station. Great characters – Howard Hesseman as Dr. Johnny Fever, Loni Anderson as Jennifer Marlowe, Richard Sanders as Less Nessman, and Frank Bonner as Herb Tarlek. Herb as sales manager for WKRP was known for bringing in advertising business from dubious sources, including “Red Wrigglers,” (“The Cadillac of Worms”); and especially known for his wardrobe – white shoes, white belt and plaid.
Gearhart Golf Links each year holds the “Herb Tarlek Day” golf event (“bad pants, tacky shirts … the ugliest affair on the coast …).

I was going to sign-up for “The Tarlek” but lacked the proper garb. What ever happened to those bellbottoms anyway? The gentlemen in the photo were in the moment and only too pleased to pose for me prior to teeing off.
“The Tarlek” is something we might want to consider back home.

McMenamin’s

As noted in October, McMenamin’s Gearhart Hotel overlooks the golf links. In the little town of Gearhart there are two social centers – the bowling alley and McMenamin’s. Have not tried the bowling alley, but we tend to wear out the hotel. It has a very lively bar that is perfect for a golf “de-brief” and a great place for lunch or light dinner. Our American friends do bars well. At happy hour, a pair of cheeseburger sliders with a side of tater tots and two glasses of wine set us back just 25 bucks.

Other Travel Suggestions

We had a bit of a wait prior to leaving Victoria on the Coho, so headed to “Floyd’s,” a breakfast and lunch place in James Bay. A great spot with a funky menu that is the home of “The Mahoney.” “The Mahoney” is 17 bucks and the restaurant will flip you for it. You win the toss and “The Mahoney” is yours – gratis. You lose, you pay double. You can’t really lose, as “The Mahoney” is big enough to feed an army. The only other catch: “The Mahoney” is whatever the chef chooses to serve (I have seen it, and it will not disappoint). In the accompanying photo, just outside the James Bay location, I’m not sure, but that just might be Floyd on the left.

Nonni’s

I wrote about “Nonni’s” in October and it lived up to our earlier experience. Rated the best restaurant in Seaside, OR, by Trip Advisor. No reservations, get there early, and you will not be disappointed. Great food, great value.

The Sleepy Monk

It is a fact of West Coast living that there are more coffee places than happy marriages. You can look it up. We discovered “The Sleepy Monk” in Cannon Beach. Line-ups are common, and the coffee and pastries are worth the wait. At the back of the “Sleepy Monk” is “The Irish Table,” the top-rated restaurant in Cannon Beach.

One More Thing

And it is worth your time. At McMenamin’s Hotel at lunch, we chose the West African Chicken Peanut Soup as a starter. It was the best. I asked our server if she could obtain the recipe from the chef. Absolutely sir! Not sure about the “sir” thing – but the recipe was very generously given. No need to seek out a West African Chicken as any chicken will do. Here is the McMenamin’s recipe, slightly modified. And it is good.

  • 2 T sesame oil
  • Medium onion diced
  • 1 T minced garlic
  • 1/2 T curry powder
  • 1 t crushed chili pepper
  • 1 t black pepper
  • 1 t kosher salt
  • 3 cups or more chicken breasts (the chicken was baked in a 350 degree oven prior to being cut into one inch pieces)
  • 1 28 ounce can diced tomatoes
  • 3 cups chicken broth (more, depending on consistency)
  • 1/4 cup tomato paste
  • 2 cups creamy peanut butter

Heat the oil in a stock pot, then add onions, garlic and spices
Add diced tomatoes and blend with a wand
Transfer to a slow cooker, adding chicken and chicken broth
Whisk in peanut butter and tomato paste and cook on low for 4-5 hours

Do Oregon, if you have the opportunity. With that, I leave you.

Heart of Darkness

It was Anthony Bourdain in an episode of “Parts Unknown,” who led me to the Congo. Or should I say, led me back to the Congo. As a 17 year old college freshman in English class, I tried to grasp “Heart of Darkness” – Joseph Conrad’s novella that is a difficult read at any age, and as I understood then and even more so now, it drove home the horrors of the Congo Free State. Anthony, in what he described as, “the most difficult shoot of my life, but was also maybe the greatest adventure of my life,” reminded his viewers that the past miseries of the Congo have left indelible scarring. It is worth seeing the “Parts Unknown” episode (available on Netflix) to comprehend what the Congo has become.

Stanley

Sir Henry Morton Stanley is integral to any historical review of the Congo.

“Doctor Livingstone, I presume?”

So goes the legend. In 1871, Stanley, then a writer for The New York Herald, and with an order from the newspaper’s owner to “find Livingstone,” led an expedition into the “heart”of Africa to find the missing medical missionary, Dr. David Livingstone. And find him he did. Livingstone had been searching for the source of the Nile River since 1866.

Stanley trekked 700 miles through the jungle, with a company of 200 porters and Ndugu M’Hali, a six year old slave boy who had been gifted to Stanley. Stanley renamed the boy Kalulu and made him his manservant.

Three years later, Stanley departed from Zanzibar, heading towards West Africa, and after exploring Lake Victoria and Lake Tanganyika, followed the Lualaba River, with the intention of proving it to be a tributary of the Congo River. I will come back to Stanley, who is pictured here with Kalulu.

Lake Tanganyika

Just a few notes on Lake Tanganyika. Tanganyika is the longest freshwater lake in the world, and the deepest lake. It covers more than 12,000 square miles, an area slightly largely than the size of Vancouver Island. Yes, it is that big. It borders on Zambia, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Burundi, and Tanzania. Below, Tanganyika as it appears from space.

Lake Tanganyika is a main watershed for the Congo River. By way of various tributaries, water finds its way west to the Congo River and then on to the Atlantic Ocean. The Congo River is the second longest river in Africa after the Nile; and after the Amazon the second largest river by volume in the world. The Congo River system goes on of almost 3,000 miles. Were it not for waterfalls and cataracts (white water rapids) one could literally float the system from Lake Tanganyika to the ocean.

Europeans made their first contact with the “Congo” in 1482, ten years before Columbus sailed to North America. At the forefront were the Portuguese, who began a prolific trade in African slaves – slaves who would be sent either to Portugal or to its colony in Brazil. It is estimated that in 1535, as an example, four to five thousand slaves were sent from the Congo to Portugal. I will skip a lot of history here, but suffice it to say that European presence in the Congo was not a blessing. The Congo was exploited in so many ways, by slave traders, by missionaries (who seemed to more shocked by polygamous practices than by the enslavement of the native population) and by traders of ivory and minerals. It is worth noting that the Europeans were not alone in trading or keeping slaves. Wealthy members of the native Bakula tribe kept slaves. And we shall see later that Arabs were also very active slave traders. Below: slaves in shackles. Not a pretty picture.

In 1848, the Hungarian explorer, Laszlo Magyar, who led a two month expedition up the Congo River, estimated that 20,000 slaves were “exported” annually from Boma, which is close to the mouth of the river.

Stanley Continued

Sir Henry Morton Stanley was born in Wales in 1841, the son of Betsy Parry, an unmarried nineteen year old. The likely father was a barrister, who paid John Rowlands, “a wastrel and drunkard” to give the child his name. After living with the family of Betsy Parry, six year old John Rowlands ended up in a workhouse. At the age of sixteen, after leaving the workhouse, John joined the crew of a merchant ship headed for New Orleans. There he jumped ship and gained employment with a cotton broker named Stanley. Young John took to Stanley and also took his surname. With the Civil War raging, the newly self-named Henry Stanley joined the Confederate army and fought at the battle of Shiloh, where he was captured by Union troops. He was imprisoned outside of Chicago at Camp Douglas with 3,000 Confederate soldiers.

In the photo preceding are some of Stanley’s prisoners-of-war mates at the prison camp. Stanley not among them though, as he was astute enough to switch sides and join the Union army. Not for long however, as he was afflicted with dysentery severe enough to warrant his discharge from service.

Stanley returned to Wales to seek out his mother and was quickly rebuffed with her instruction to, “Never come back … unless you come better dressed and in better circumstances …” And we are not yet finished with Stanley.

Zanzibar

You may ask, “Why has Freddie Mercury been injected into these proceedings?” First of all, this is very heavy going – and it won’t get any easier, so the image of Freddy offers a bit of a respite. Second, Freddie (then Farrockh Bulsara) was born in Zanzibar.

Here is where Zanzibar fits into this blog posting. Zanzibar is an archipelago lying off the east coast of Africa, and is a protectorate of Tanzania. It was a jumping-off point for Stanley in 1871 as he headed towards west Africa. And Zanzibar, in pre-colonial and colonial times, was the hub of the slave trade, especially for Arab slave traders. Chief among them was Tippu Tip, real name, Hamad bin Muhammad bin Juma bin Rajab el Murjebi. Tippu Tip (below), apart from trading in slaves, worked the ivory market and his own plantations. He was prolific in the slave trade, raiding villages in east Africa, taking men, women and children, many of whom ended up in middle eastern countries in perpetual servitude.

Seems harmless enough, but do not be fooled. A ruthless businessman (if you can call his business a “business”), Tippu Tip, got one thing right; his opinion of Stanley, who he referred to as “a congenital liar, a man without honour, one who could not keep his word, and a worse slave driver to his own men than any Arab slave driver.”

King Leopold II

While the rest of Europe sat on the sidelines, Belgium’s King Leopold in 1879 began to move to exert his influence in the Congo. Apparently intrigued with the explorations and writings of Stanley (Stanley’s book “Through the Dark Continent” was a great success) Leopold hired Stanley to “modernize” the Congo. The real mission, as it turned out, was to exploit the Congo for its wealth of resources. Over a five year period, Stanley would oversee the construction of roads, the creation of ports for steamboats while persuading the native population to forfeit their lands.

In short order Stanley had established the foundations for what was now the “Congo Free State” – essentially a slave state whose economy was driven primarily by the production of rubber (for export to Europe), but also trade in ivory and minerals.

That is Leopold in the foregoing, with examples of the atrocities he fomented. Workers (read “slaves”) failing to deliver on their proscribed quotas of rubber and/or ivory, were deprived of a hand; or killed by the “Force Publique,” a paramilitary organization of largely non-Congolese Africans led by European officers. Members of the Force Publique were obliged to provide officers with a severed hand for every bullet expended.

The Congo Free State, which was formally established in 1885 at a pan-European conference in Berlin, became the personal fiefdom of Leopold, and remained under his control until 1908. Although never setting foot in the Congo, Leopold extracted great riches, albeit through the suffering of millions of Congolese. It is estimated that some 10 million Africans died during Leopold’s reign over the Congo – death coming through exertion, starvation, torture, outright murder – to the extent that some have called this the “first Holocaust.” It was through the efforts of a handful of people that Leopold lost his grip on the Congo. Edward Morel, a Liverpool accountant, realized that for all the wealth coming out of the Congo Free State, that only guns and ammunition were returned to Africa. Morel teamed with Roger Casement, an Ulsterman and British consul to the Congo, to publicize the atrocities being committed under Leopold’s rule. So it was in 1908 that Belgium annexed the Congo Free State, and the Belgian Congo came into being. At that time, the population of Belgium was 7.5 million. There were 8 million Congolese living in an area 80 times the size of Belgium. Incidentally, the population of the Congo in 1880 was estimated to be 20 million.

Stanley, for his part, was knighted in 1899.

Joseph Conrad

In his synopsis of “Heart of Darkness” my English professor said that the story was one of “restraint.” I was mystified by his comment. But re-reading the novella I gained the understanding that he was talking of the lack of restraint; that the white man, when he was freed from “European” restraint, was transformed into a man characterized by greed, cruelty and no regard for human life. Francis Ford Coppola used “Heart of Darkness” as the basis for his film “Apocalypse Now,” that was set during the Vietnam War. While “Heart of Darkness” is challenging, the film is also tough to get through. But both are worth your time.

The Congo Today

There is much more to tell about the Congo, including its emergence as the Belgian Congo (where life for Congolese for a while actually got better) to its independence from colonial masters. But perhaps another time.
Briefly, the modern day Congo, known now as The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is a mess. That point is driven home in Bourdain’s programme. There are almost 80 million Congolese today, most living in abject poverty. If you played a word association game using “Congo,” the responses might include, “Ebola,” “child soldiers,” “blood diamonds,” “tribal conflict” – certainly nothing positive. What was potentially the richest (culturally and economically) country on the African continent, is a country of warring factions and rotting infrastructure.